There is nothing quite as spectacular as the sight of a tall, meaty pastrami sandwich, just like the one that is served in a traditional kosher-style deli in New York City.
The art of curing meat
Pastrami joins salami and corned beef as being deli favourites in the United States, especially in NYC. Cured meats have always been a favourite item to use in sandwiches and meat platters, but unlike hams and salami, which are salted and aged, then sliced paper-thin, the pastrami is more like a brined meat with a thicker, chewy texture. The thought of good pastrami, peppery tender and aromatic is enough to make the mouth water.
Like many popular American dishes of today, the origin of pastrami is linked closely to immigrants. It was the Romanian Jews who introduced this delicacy to the United States during their mass immigration to the country in the late 19th century. The Romanians had picked up this ancient way of preserving meat from the Ottoman Turks, who were experts in curing meat as a form of preservation.
From goose to beef
In the past, goose meat was used to make pastrami because it was cheap. Then the Romanian immigrants found an even cheaper alternative in America, which was beef brisket. They have since modified the traditional pastrami recipe and stopped using goose altogether.
Brisket is now the cut of beef most commonly used to make pastrami. It comes from the navel end of the beef belly, just below the ribs. This cut of beef is tough yet fatty, which breaks down beautifully after a long period of slow cooking.
How pastramis are made
The first step to making pastrami is to cure the beef in brine. In the brining solution, salt, sugar, and spices are added. This process can last for days or even a week, to allow the meat tissue to start disintegrating as well as absorb all the flavours.
After that, the whole chunk of brisket is dry-rubbed and coated with a unique spice blend of black pepper, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, along with a few other aromatics, before being smoked for several hours. Each deli has its own spice mixture, and some are closely guarded secrets.
For some pastrami makers, they go an extra step after the smoking process, steaming the meat until the tough connective tissues break down completely into tender, juicy bits, and jelly-like gelatine, making the pastrami very easy to eat. Today, pastramis are no longer just limited to briskets. Chefs are experimenting with the method of making pastrami and using proteins such as lamb or even salmon.
Pastrami sandwich is often eaten with a Kosher dill pickle, and accompanied by spicy brown mustard as a condiment. Occasionally you will also see coleslaw being served together. The way the brisket is sliced determines the texture and taste of the meat. Some people prefer thinner slices, while others like thicker pieces.
Pastrami in sandwiches is great as lunch or afternoon snack. A huge sandwich might even make a hearty dinner. Pastrami on rye bread has long been a signature dish of New York’s Jewish deli. This trend then spreads to the other parts of America and gradually becomes an international icon, served in delis but also in bistros and cafes all over the world.
Pastrami is not just a kind of tasty meat dish. It represents an artisanal craft, highlighting the age-old technique of preservation, which has been perfected over time, in America.
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